Natural Products Expo West is in the books for another year. About 85,000 attendees, 3,600+ exhibitors made for a crazy, chaotic and ultimately fun week in Anaheim. From the Airbnb in Santa Ana where I caught a little down time between long and busy days to the early morning free breakfast and the after-show Oregon party at McCormick and Schmick’s, it was a helluva week. Take a look:
This year, our company TradeshowGuy Exhibits, had a great showing at Natural Products Expo West. In fact, our best ever, as we introduced three new clients and five new projects. Let’s take a look:
Schmidt’s Naturals has been a client for a few years, but this year they stepped up from a 10×20 custom exhibit to a brand new 10×40 custom exhibit. The brand, which was purchased in late 2017 by Unilever, has seen fast growth for an expanding product line that was created basically out of a Portland garage a decade ago.
The new 10×40 custom booth features backlit panels from side to side, a generous closet and a pair of LED-highlighted display podiums with storage. The design is clean with lots of white space, and is set off by colorful iconic custom flooring.
Wildbrine’s designer worked with our designer to come up with a clean and colorful 10×20 design that featured a bright green design for the flooring, and bright colors for the back wall and side return walls. There is an inset shelving unit in the closet, lit by white LEDs and a set of RGB custom-controlled lights.
Another custom 10×20, this one highlighted by a large mounted monitor, a big lightbox and a custom product display. Two similar counters for drink machines and literature and an LED-highlighted round charging table topped it off, along with a white oak printed rollable vinyl floor.
Hop Tea, out of Boulder, Colorado, is a company founded last May! They found us online and we partnered with Salem’s TimbrandMoss to create a custom reclaimed barnwood back wall and counters to serve their brewed tea through kegerators. The back wall accommodated a rented refrigerator. The front counter was highlighted by a burnt-in logo. We also created a cut-out vinyl-wrapped 3D version of thei rlogo to hang from the back wall. Their product won a Nexty award for Best New Ready-to-Drink Beverage. And their exhibit went over really well in the Hilton Hot New Products hall!
I go back over a decade with Hyland’s. The company I worked for back in 2005, Interpretive Exhibits (since closed due to retirement), designed and built a unique koa wood 10×20 exhibit. They’ve used it ever since – except for this year. They wanted a brighter, simpler approach, and we helped put together a large 8′ x 20′ single-photo pop-up back wall. Striking!
Graphic Updates: Bob’s Red Mill, Wedderspoon and Dave’s Killer Bread/Alpine Valley
Long-time clients Bob’s Red Mill, Wedderspoon and Dave’s Killer Bread had us do some updates. For Bob’s Red Mill, we coordinated the creation of a 42″ touchscreen video unit in the alcove portion of their booth, along with graphic updates throughout the exhibit.
For Dave’s Killer Bread, new graphics included a stark look at second-chance employment for convicted felons on their front counter, and the addition of a video monitor which looped a short video on the issue.
For Wedderspoon Manuka Honey, some more graphic updates. All great clients to work with – and glad to have them all!
I didn’t think the halls at the Anaheim Convention Center could get busier and more crowded than the previous day here at the Natural Products Expo West, but I guess I’m wrong.
It was really busy, and my FitBit says I’m at about 23,000 steps as I write this around 8:30pm. So not only did I walk a lot, bump into a lot of people, ingest about a billion food samples, but my feet hurt like jiminy cricket. Or whatever expletive you want to insert.
The day started with a referral from a present client. This is what’s so great about having your company’s exhibits on display at such a big show. Someone will inevitably see a booth, inquire as to what company designed and built it, and voila, a connection is made. It doesn’t mean any business will come out of it, but at least, from a sales standpoint, you’re working with a warm lead. So I tracked down the other exhibitor and we had a good introductory conversation. Who knows where it will lead.
Which is how I approach the whole walking-the-show-floor bit. During a long and busy day, you end up standing in front of a booth and someone in the space will ask a question, which starts a conversation. What do you do? Where are you from? Questions lead to answers, which lead to more questions. I’ve learned to be patient, and be open. Since my natural inclination is to be mostly introverted, putting myself out there isn’t natural. It requires more focus and energy. But good things usually come from it. No expectations, no real agenda other than meeting people.
With such a big show, one must make a conscious choice to move from one hall to another, from one floor to another, from one building to another. Otherwise you just won’t see everything. And even when you do that, there’s no way in hell one person can engage with 3500 exhibitors in three or four days. Do the math: that’s about 1000 a day, and with the halls open 8 hours, that’s about 125 an hour, or one booth every 30 seconds. Ain’t gonna happen!
Since that’s the case, I spend a lot of time working to reconnect with people I’ve met in the past, so we can make a brief reacquaintance, which is always good for business. During this process, you find out changes: companies bought or sold, employees promoted or changing jobs, or leaving the company. That’s what makes the world go around: change. It’s what leads to new business. What worked a year ago may not work next year. Any business owner or salesperson should be prepared for those opportunities.
During the day I had opportunities to take photos of exhibits, exhibitors, mascots and get my photo taken. Lots got posted on social media – always fun to give a shoutout to exhibitors to make the whole thing more fun. Let me close the day with a few more photos!
Need to keep visitors at your booth a little longer to go over some business with them? Adding a charging table gives them an opportunity to stay and gives you a chance to open up a longer dialogue with them.
Admittedly, you may not want every passerby to stop and plug in. But in my experience, most people won’t stop unless they have a valid reason. And stopping in a random booth to charge your phone is not a reason (again, for most people).
And if you have a table or counter that’s not currently equipped with a charging port, it’s easy enough to add when you get the charging port kit.
Charging tables come in all shapes, sizes and heights, so it should be a simple matter to find one that fits your needs and desire. Take a look at our complete charging table collection here, and browse a few images and photos here:
Nothing quite like it. I’ve seen many done for a number of clients, and all agree they come in very handy!
Tradeshow marketing is hard. It’s chaotic. Much of what happens in your booth at show is out of your hands, uncontrollable. I’ve talked to hundreds of exhibitors and consultants and experts over the years, yet they rarely, if ever, bring up one of the key elements that make tradeshow marketing so difficult.
And that’s the nuts and bolts of personal interaction with attendees. While attending shows is one thing, standing in the booth for hours over the course of two or three days is a different beast entirely.
You may have a plan: ask passersby specific questions (“What brings you to the show? Does your company use our product or service? If so, are you planning to make a purchase in the near future?” And so on…), make sure the conversation is completed properly with follow-ups, dates/times, content, etc. But when the show is underway, those plans often fall away and you end up having conversations that don’t regularly get to the point.
It happened with us at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference last week. Prior to the doors opening, my partner, Roger, and I talked about these questions and the information we were hoping to obtain from attendees. We were looking to qualify or disqualify those attendees based on those questions.
But our approach was lacking. It’s too easy to get into a conversation about something else because of a topic that the attendee brings up. Or once you start a conversation, someone else comes by and asks a question. Then you get distracted. We’re all human. We can’t make every interaction as good as we’d like.
As the hours slipped by, and we had lulls in the number of people walking our aisle, we’d chat about how we were trying to do the right thing, but it’s not always possible. The human element makes it impossible to get it right all the time, or even much of the time.
Having said all of that, there were a number of pleasant surprises: people who stopped and asked specifically what we did and then wanting to make sure we followed up; people who saw my books on the table and inquired about them, which was a great opportunity to start a more in-depth conversation; people who saw what we did and referred us to someone in their booth nearby to chat with about possibly doing something with them in the future.
In spite of all of the misfires with a lot of attendees, at the end of the show we both felt that a lot of good came out of our appearance. We counted over 40 contacts that we’ll be following up with shortly. Many of them could be seen as strong leads.
It’s so easy to see all of those poor interactions as a reflection of lack of preparation or skill, but I believe that’s not the case. It’s just the way it goes. Often. People are easily distracted. People have their own agendas. They are unpredictable. Not everything goes exactly as planned. But at the end of the day, if you came away with a good amount of leads that you can follow with, that’s a good thing. Don’t worry about the ones that got away. They might not have been that valuable anyway.
And frankly, in this business, we won’t really be able to come up with an ROI for months and months.
TradeshowGuy Exhibits just finished exhibiting with another 100+ exhibitors at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference at the Portland Expo Center. There were certainly a lot of growers and sellers of cannabis at the show (although products could not be sold at the show) displaying dozens of samples of cannabis. Our booth – #420 – was right next to Williams Canna Company, growers of high quality cannabis. They had about a dozen samples of cannabis on display in glass containers. While you couldn’t smoke it, you could certainly sniff it – and sniff we did.
I toured the show floor a number of times snapping photos, curious to see what kinds of exhibits were there and how companies presented themselves. Here are some of those:
Why do so many companies come up short with their tradeshow marketing plans? Often it’s in the execution. They have good plans, good people and a solid product or service to market. But their overall idea of how tradeshow marketing should be approached and executed isn’t strong enough.
With that, I sat down with Dianna Geairn and Alice Heiman of Tradeshow Makeover, a recently-formed company, to dig deep into how companies might want to consider approaching their overall tradeshow marketing program:
Dianna and Alice have graciously offered to share a couple of items that you, as a tradeshow marketing manager or small exhibiting company, may find helpful:
Is that a crazy question – are you motivated by fear or love when it comes to tradeshow marketing? After all, it’s just business, right? And setting up an exhibit at a tradeshow is just a basic business decision.
But no matter if it’s a personal or a business situation, both fear and love can come into play. Among both clients and among people I meet at tradeshows, love plays a part because, let’s face it, lots of people love tradeshows! They love the noise, chaos, meeting loads of people, selling, setting up a sharp-looking exhibit and so on. But they also fear things. Like not meeting deadlines, spending too much money, not getting a good ROI, being in a poor location, having lack of control over the outcome.
I got to thinking about all of this because TradeshowGuy Exhibits will be exhibiting at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference later this month in Portland with about another 100 exhibitors. It’s a modest regional show that draws mostly Oregon-based companies, but it does attract some out-of-state exhibitors. As most exhibitors, we’re putting money, time and energy on the line. And we don’t know if we’ll get out of it what we really want. Which is to generate more business and leads, and to get a good return on investment.
Which means I’m motivated by both love and fear. Love of this business and getting out and mixing it up with people face-to-face. Fear of having our expectations come up short due to things beyond our control.
What IS within our control are the many steps that we can take prior to the show to generate some traffic at our booth; the actual exhibit; and of course, how we interact with people. Just this week I sent out dozens of post cards to exhibitors inviting them to come by the booth to pick up a copy of one of my books. And once they do, we’ll engage them in a conversation to determine if they’re a potential client by going through the various questions a good exhibitor should do.
Regardless of your motivation – love or fear – the one thing you can control is your activity. Know what your plan is, know how to execute it, and most of all, if the plan isn’t working, be prepared to make adjustments.
When I started this blog in November 2008, it was a different world. I was employed as VP of Sales and Marketing by Interpretive Exhibits, where I started in April 2002. In 2008 Barack Obama was elected president, gas prices spiked at one point, averaging over $4.10 per gallon. First class postage stamps were 42 cents. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider was officially inaugurated in October of that year. And there was a global recession triggered by (among other things) a real estate bubble, Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, and a stock market crash. And remember credit default swaps? Ooooh, booy.
By 2008 I had spent six+ years in the tradeshow world and was still making my way around it. When an old radio friend kidded me by calling me “Tradeshowguy” I didn’t think much of it. But then blogging was becoming a thing, and as someone who liked to write, I wanted an outlet that had to do with my daily routine. And since it was easy to register a website domain, I did so with TradeshowGuyBlog.com. Just because. Even though I was employed by Interpretive Exhibits, I made sure that when I started this blog, it was not too closely aligned with them. I felt since it was my content, it should be separate. At the time, there were a lot of mentions and links on the blog of IE, but when the owner retired in 2011 and closed the company, I kept the blog going, started TradeshowGuy Exhibits and kept moving forward.
Being an old radio guy who had a home studio, I started calling consultants and industry experts and interviewing them and posting the interviews on the blog. Actually, I had been doing that prior to starting the blog and posting the interviews on the Interpretive Exhibits website, which I was also in charge of. It was my way of learning more about the industry and working to differentiate myself from other people in the industry.
Ten years down the line, what have I learned and gained from blogging? Here’s a quick list:
Blogging is a commitment. Ya gotta show up, all the time. No blogging for a week or two or three and then waiting another month or four. You have to be there, all the time. Each blog is different, and it doesn’t matter a whole lot the frequency of posting, but it has to have a regularity about it. Whether it’s once a week, three times a week, twice a month. Readers should expect you to have something new on a regular basis.
You don’t just have to write. You can also post video, audio and photographs. Even the occasional slide deck! Lots of options, so you’re not stuck with just writing.
It doesn’t have to be long.Seth Godin blogs every day. Every. Single. Day. Most are short. But he’s always there, he’s always showing up.
You learn a ton. By writing about anything, you end up learning more about what you write about. Sometimes it means you’re researching or talking to people. But often the simply act of putting words together helps you understand what it is you’re trying to communicate.
Blogging isn’t a quick way to make more money. But it does bring in clients, if only haphazardly and almost accidentally. I’ve had companies find me because of my blog and they’ve become customers. One year, 2016, two-thirds of my company’s business came about because I was found online. Next year, that was down to less than ten percent. There’s no direct line between one and other but there is a line! But people do find me through this blog, and now and then someone buys something.
By posting video, you learn a lot about video production. By posting audio, you can learn more about audio production. Even though I did audio production for years as a radio guy, it’s always fun to see what else you can do with digital audio production.
Blogs are the perfect platform for podcasting and vlogging (video-blogging). I started TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee so I could have a regular outlet to get in front of a microphone and camera and share more of what I’m doing. Having a weekly deadline where I KNOW I have to produce is a good motivator.
You have to be transparent. Yes, you can hide some things, but a blog generally lets people see the real you. Especially if you add in a regular podcast where you talk about yourself and your business. And in this day and age, that is an advantage because it helps make connections that you might not otherwise make so easily.
Blogging allows me to meet a lot of people. This is mainly the result of asking people to sit for a short interview for my podcast, but however we connect, they know who I m, and I learn who they are.
By blogging, I feel I’m always moving forward. The blog is a great space to share what the company is doing, to highlight new products, shows I attend or exhibit at, people I meet and much more.
Now that I’ve (surprisingly) gotten ten years of blogging under my belt, I think I have a good idea of what this is all about. Almost. Stick with me and let’s see where it goes!